When we think of grief, we often think of death. While death is perhaps the most devastating and terrifying form of grief, it is not the cause of all our tears. Other sufferings and life-events can cause us to feel that acute sense of loss.
2020 has brought many unexpected sources of sorrow. In our prolonged anxiety-ridden and isolated season of COVID, many ceremonies and celebrations never happened. Many momentous firsts and lasts passed away from friends and family. Hopes and dreams were dashed. Highly anticipated plans and events were cancelled. Long established routines and rites of passage crumbled.
Our incredibly interconnected world lost a lot of its togetherness.
These losses can cause a sense of grief. Sadly, the world grieves without hope of life beyond the moment this brief life ends. Those worshiping according to the ways of this world will not have any losses returned to them a hundred-fold, but their miseries will be multiplied infinitely. Those not trusting in Jesus Christ have no rest from their grief for their comfort and security and happiness are contingent on the (however important) passing emotions the pleasures and entertainments and accolades of this world elicit.
As followers of Jesus, how is our grief different — especially right now?
The godly are always grieving.
In a way, followers of Jesus Christ are always grieving while they sojourn in this life. We grieve because we feel that this weary world is not our true home. All believers walk with this godly sorrow even while paradoxically being called to live joyfully. While we grieve as we bemoan the extent of sin’s reign and effects on the mortal realm, godly grief does not scorn the pain of the world but comes alongside it and has compassion for it, knowing that the whole of creation is groaning to be renewed (Romans 8:22-24). As our sight becomes clearer because we know God better, we see His hand in everything great and small.
Our grief is far more acute right now, yet we cling to hope.
Though we always grieve, we’ve been grieving a lot more in recent months. The high school senior that didn’t get to have the 12 years-in-the-making ceremony and celebration has cause for sadness. But graduating believers can grieve with hope —that the Lord will not let their diligent witness, work and discipline go to waste and is preparing not only a place in the Kingdom but Kingdom work for them yet to do.
Many newlyweds had to greatly alter (or cancel) their wedding and reception plans. There wasn’t a chance to celebrate what God has done between them before their friends, family and the Church Body, surely a cause for sorrow. But believing newlyweds can grieve with hope — that they can spend the rest of this life of glorifying the Lord together and being greatly used by God in one another’s lives and in this weary world for the Kingdom.
Graduations and weddings are only a few of the events stalled this year. Innumerable baby showers and last goodbyes and family vacations and sweet 16s and birthdays have been missed. Family members only seen once a year may not be seen this year at all. Community has been difficult to maintain this year, as necessary as it is (Hebrews 10:25). But, again, we can grieve with hope — and with a desire to still pursue community. (After all, we were not made to walk through hardship without our flock or without a shepherd.)
Godly grief shares.
The gospel not only saves us from the penalty of our sins; it also brings us into a community, the church. As a result, we don’t grieve alone.
Community is a God-given space for allowing the grieving to grieve. The church especially needs to be a place for honesty in grief, for processing grief and for proclaiming the only true Hope to end all griefs. In becoming a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), we also are called to walk, rejoice and lament with other new creations as we suffer endure, celebrate and suffer together. There are, of course, appropriate windows in grief to withdraw from community for a time, but sustained isolation from the blood-flow of the Body will ultimately weaken any one part and eventually the Body as a whole.
Hardship comes in many shapes and sizes and wears many faces. We must have the humility to recognize that what may seem an easy burden for us is incredibly difficult for another individual. This empathy ought not lead to a denial of hardship or encourage the other believer to linger in their disappointment, but it should point us beyond our loss to God. Godly grief is unique because godly grief is communal. We share our trials and burdens, and we are better for it.
We grieve, remembering God’s plans remain unshakable.
A global pandemic has wreaked havoc on everyone’s best laid plans and long-sought events and dashed everyone’s hopes for the new decade. But God’s sovereignty has remained ever sure. Perhaps he’s even used these months to expose our society’s idols, halting a world constantly going at breakneck speed, interrupting the lives of people who can’t see past tomorrow for the satisfaction in their lives. God has surely used this isolation and unusual time to think to awaken and stir our minds and hearts.
We can trust Him with the unknowns, even the unknowns of global proportions for He set the world on its foundations (Psalm 104:5). The One who knows all will not cease to be at work in even the biggest unknowns. To know God is greater gain than any loss this life can impart.
We don’t know why in 2020 He has chosen to upend and utterly decimate so many plans and preparations. But we do know the Lord can make even death itself into life, and we know that God can use grief, loss and sadness to work in new and miraculous ways. He has not forsaken us. His love never fails. He remains the Light of the World.
We grieve. But we must not put our trust in the end of the pandemic or in the arrival of 2021 but in the eventual glorious return of Christ our only Hope.